It’s hard to fathom that only 33 years ago HIV AIDS was a feared and stigmatised epidemic in the western world, which caused millions of deaths and many to experience tremendous amounts of prejudice.
Today in western countries many people with HIV live long, fulfilling lives and are accepted equally in society. However, AIDS-related stigma still exists and is a prevalent issue in many developing nations, including the sub-Saharan African country, Malawi.
As one of the poorest countries in the world, Malawi has been heavily affected by the HIV AIDS epidemic since the first case was discovered in 1985. AIDS is now the leading cause of death in Malawi and about 10.8% of the population has the HIV virus, with 180,000 of those infected being children under the age of 14.
Curtin University PhD student Fatch Kalembo, a Malawian native, wants to change the way HIV patients are treated in Malawi, specifically children.
As part of his PhD project, Kalembo is developing a series of children’s books, which will inform HIV positive children about the illness and teach adults how to approach the upsetting task of informing their children that they’re HIV positive.
Malawi’s strict orthodox views on contraception and a shortage of anti-viral drugs, which prevent the transmission of the infection between mother and child, are the main causes for the continual escalation of HIV amongst the youth.
Growing up in Malawi and experiencing first hand the vast affects of HIV on the community drove Kalembo to make HIV awareness the focus of his PhD project as well as his life goal.
He says because HIV discrimination still exists in Malawi it’s especially problematic for young children psychologically.
“Stigma discrimination is a big problem in Malawi, so much so that people tend to hide and not tell other people that they have it,” he says.
“Once you have HIV the whole family is discriminated against.
“Currently there are many children who are growing up without knowing that they have HIV and the way they are told is not done in a good way.
“Health workers and the parents are not aware of how to disclose HIV to children,” Kalembo says.
“The aim of the project is that even a child can read the book, because it will be easy to understand.”
Kalembo says the books, which will be illustrated by a local Malawian artist, will reach children aged between 6-12 years old and each series will target a specific age group.
“Each book will contain additional information that will build information on the previous books,” he says.
“We are planning to give a book as a gift with the birth of every child.”
As part of the project, Kalembo plans to travel back to Malawi to do further research on the current status of HIV disclosure to children, information he will then use to write the book.
Kalembo says he hopes the book can have a significant impact on child sufferers, as well as help children struggling with HIV around the world in the future.